13 September 2013
Water scarcity, water pricing
The issue of water pricing is often highly politicised and emotional. But, according to the OECD, “anything scarce and in demand commands a price; this is one of the basic principles of economics. Water is scarce in some contexts (drought, degraded quality), so water pricing is increasingly seen as an acceptable instrument of public policy.” Obviously exceptions can and must be made, particularly for the water required for basic human needs which is part of the human right to water and should be treated accordingly.
Below are some of my ideas on conservation-oriented water pricing in the context of other aspects of what we pay when we use water.
This week, a team from the 2030 Water Resources Group presented a web-based learning tool called ‘Managing Water Use in Scarce Environments: A Catalogue of Case Studies’ at the Stockholm World Water Week. It is a project I have supported from the beginning; Nestlé also made a major financial contribution to make it possible. The catalogue is made up of 42 case studies from around the world that cover a wide range of common water scarcity problems, as well as the solutions employed to address them. It builds on the first report of the 2030 Water Resources Group, ‘Charting our Water Future’ from 2009.
The catalogue describes and analyses practical experience, with different ways of bringing fresh water withdrawals in individual river basins and underground aquifers back into line with sustainable supply (natural renewal minus environmental flows). In the name of searching for cost-effective solutions to the water challenge, but also in order to provide some more transparency, the case studies include estimates of the cost per cubic meter of fresh water saved. In addition to good practices and solutions, the catalogue is also meant to provide information about experienced practitioners, suppliers of good solutions (including commercial ones) and good advisors (such as NGOs).
Following up on a very substantial comment in reaction to a post on my LinkedIn page, I asked Siddharth Chatterjee for permission to re-post an article he had published on 16 October 2012 in AlertNet of Thomson Reuters Foundation. Here is his text, re-posted with his agreement.
Siddharth Chatterjee is the Chief Diplomat at the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) and has also worked in the UN, UNICEF and UNOPS. He underlines that these are his personal views and do not reflect those of his employer, the IFRC. The author can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and his Twitter handle is @Sidchat1.
I also very much welcome your comments here on the blog.
In January 2005, I organised the first discussion on water at the World Economic Forum in Davos. Avishay Braverman, a leading Israeli politician, and then President of Ben Gurion University of the Negev, was one of the invited panelists. He spoke about the battle over water – some were even seeing the risks of war over water – in the Middle East and elsewhere. But he made it very clear: “Water is not the reason for war; it is only an excuse for war." Another quote from Malidoma Somé, an initiated Elder into the Dagara Tribe of West Central Africa and holder of a Ph.D. in Political Science from the Sorbonne: “The Dagara tribe of West Central Africa successfully categorize their people into five different categories: fire, water, mineral, earth and nature. The "water" people are usually considered the peacemakers. They are the ones with the ability to reconcile differences, both differences within the self and differences with one another.”
As I have written about previously in this blog, the use of water, one of our basic human needs, has been growing vastly in the last century. It is predicted that over the next 20 years, the world’s thirst for water will grow by 50%. By 2030, water withdrawals will exceed natural renewals by 60%. Water overuse and scarcity are becoming critical issues in the new millennium at both global and regional levels.
Up to now, water overuse was at the expense of the environment. But as the gap increases rapidly, water shortage risks having an immediate impact on agricultural production, given the fact that 90% of fresh water used globally is for irrigation to grow the food we eat. With the current trends in population and economic growth affecting water needs for all kind of activities, this could result in global shortfalls of up to 30% in cereal production by 2025. There is no doubt that we are facing a great challenge as to how we will be able to feed the world’s population in the near future.